FIFA Anti-Racism Task Force – the struggle continues

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

THE recent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA caused by white supremacists have caused great alarm all over the world. The death of one of the counter -protesters, Heather Heyer after being rammed by a car driven by one of the racist white supremacists is indeed very sad.    

All the hype about America being the leader of the so-called “Free World “sounds very misleading and downright hypocritical. This event might seem detached from the world of sport and football in particular. However, given the interconnectedness of the contemporary global society, there is indeed a cause for alarm. The scourges of bigotry, hate and racism are indeed very alive and kicking in our world. These are issues that any decent international organisation should not gloss over or sweep under the carpet.

Football lovers are still reeling from the decision of the international football governing body, FIFA, to disband its Anti-Racism Task Force. FIFA, obviously, have their reasons which are difficult to establish.  The background and rational for this regressive and unpalatable decision have not be established. We are told that FIFA decided that the Task Force has “completed its temporary mission”   and was therefore disbanded and no longer in operation. It is indeed a euphemism to state that this is one of the most irrational decisions that has been made by the football world governing body. It is a terrible smack in the face for all those people of different racial backgrounds who have been working to achieve equity, equality and inclusion in world sport.

With the 2018 FIFA World Cup getting closer and closer, it would be naïve to gloss over the real challenges of intolerance, racism and bigotry that have been reported in the host country, Russia. It is therefore relevant to ask whether teams comprising people of diverse racial backgrounds are going to be really welcome in Russia. The recently held, FIFA Confederations Cup was just but a public relations exercise and a dress rehearsal for next year.  Are they any educational or awareness programs being undertaken for the football community and general public in Russia? The violence that erupted in France during the recently held Euro 2016 football tournament is just but a warning of the havoc that racist bigots, neo-Nazis and other demented people can wreak on a public event. In addition, Incidences of racism have been reported recently in Spain, Italy and parts of Eastern Europe where in some cases, matches have had to be temporarily halted or abandoned altogether.

The late great President of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was a great advocate of the power of sport to transform the world and united people of diverse backgrounds. His words still ring true even today.

“Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination”.

Therefore, all international sport federations, and not just FIFA, are in a unique position to provide visible and dynamic leadership in the combating racism in all its forms in the contemporary global society that exists. In this connection, the FIFA Anti-Racism Task Force is a much needed and relevant aspect of FIFA’s efforts in developing and marketing what the great Brazilian player, Pele, referred to as jogo bonnito, “the beautiful game”.

It would be interesting to understand what “accomplishments” were being referred to by the FIFA authorities vis a vis the Terms of Reference when they disband the Anti-Racism Task Force.

If they think bigotry and racism have disappeared from world football, then it is evident that they have developed serious amnesia. Disbanding the Anti-Racism Task Force flies in the face of what FIFA has achieved over the years. Football stadiums should not be arenas of prejudice, hate, intolerance and violence.

Going to a football match at any level should be a family affair for all people regardless of socio-economic, political, racial background or geographic location. It is important that Confederation of African Football (CAF), representing Africans, who are most affected by racism, takes up this matter up in the FIFA structures to ensure that the Anti-Racism Task Force is re-established.  It is also crucial that the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) also leads and contributes to dialogue on this matter.

The decision to disband the Anti-Racism Task Force speaks volumes about the need for transparency and good governance at FIFA. To this end, thorough house cleaning is still required at FIFA. Most of the current Confederation leaders and FIFA Executive Board Members have been part and parcel of the system that brought the game to its knees and into serious disrepute. They might not necessarily be the crop of leaders or the best people to drag the organization from its current quagmire. Hopefully, by the time the 2018 FIFA World Cup is played, these troubles could be distant memories. Right now, it is all like a bad dream but the game will undoubtedly emerge much stronger from these governance set-backs.

There is no other way!  Racism and white supremacy have no basis or foundation in science, morals and law. In conclusion, it is important again to seek the wisdom of Madiba who stated unequivocally that, “Racism pollutes the atmosphere of human relations and poisons the minds of the backward, the bigoted and the prejudiced.”  The ball is in the court of the electorate, the FIFA Member Federations, to build a better world football governing body.

August 2017
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